The Presidential Library's materials highlight the history of National Unity Day

4 November 2021

On November 4, 2021, Russia celebrates one of the most significant public holidays - National Unity Day.

More than 400 years ago, on November 4 (October 22, by the old style), 1612, the troops of the People's Militia led by Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky liberated Moscow from the Polish invaders. Since 2005, Russia has been celebrating National Unity Day on November 4.

Materials from the Presidential Library's collection Overcoming the Time of Troubles in Russia, a video tour of the exhibition The Time of Troubles and Its Images in Russian Science and Culture (2012) and a video lecture by Doctor of Historical Sciences Pavel Sedov Two Leaders of the Time of Troubles: False Dmitry I and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky (2018), available on the institution's portal, tell about the historical events that determined the holiday's date.

According to historians, the Time of Troubles is the period of dynastic and national crisis that threatened the collapse of the Russian state. The Time of Troubles begins with the decline of the Rurik Dynasty. It ends with the national election to the kingdom in 1613 of Mikhail, a representative of the House of Romanov.

In 1598, Fyodor Ioannovich, the last of the Rurik Dynasty, died. Boris Godunov became the first tsar to receive the throne not by inheritance, but by a national election.

In 1601-1603, poor harvests caused a famine in Russia. At the same time, the breaking news came from Poland that Tsarevich Dmitry was alive and miraculously escaped. The most widespread version is that False Tsarevich was the monk of the Chudov Monastery Grigory Otrepiev. He entered Russian historiography under the name of False Dmitry I. In 1604, the army of False Dmitry I entered the territory of Russia. In June 1605, an uprising against the Godunov dynasty began in Moscow. False Dmitry I killed his political opponents and entered Moscow. People and part of the nobility recognized the Tsar in False Dmitry I. But his domestic and foreign policies did not find support either from the boyars or the ordinary people. Considering the situation, the boyar Vasily Shuisky "and his comrades" organized a plot. The false tsar was defeated and killed.

The boyars decided to give the throne to Shuisky, but he did not meet the expectations of the nobility. In 1607, a new pretender to the throne appeared - False Dmitry II. Unrest flared up everywhere. Shuisky applied to the Swedes for help. The Swedes were then at war with the Poles, who used this situation to declare war on Russia.

In 1610, Vasily Shuisky was removed from the throne, power passed into the hands of the provisional government - the seven-boyars, who invited the Polish prince Vladislav IV to rule.

Three main centres of power arose on the territory of the Russian state - the seven-boyars with the Poles in Moscow, False Dmitry II near Moscow in Tushino, and the First Peoples' Militia, which was finally defeated.

In September 1611, Nizhny Novgorod became the centre of the liberation movement. "In this terrible time, one person will undertake a great intention to resist all the forces of Russia's enemies and prevent it from falling into the abyss of destruction", says the writer and historian Nikolai Ilyinsky in his book Description of the Life and Immortal Feat of the Glorious Man of the Nizhny Novgorod Merchant Kozma Minin (1799). He asks the question: "Who was this man? Maybe someone would think that he is from one of the first Russian families?... But it is the opposite: Kozma Minin, nicknamed Sukhoruky (Dead Hand), is just a merchant of Nizhny Novgorod, an ordinary person who had a butcher business".

Russia, deprived of unity, torn apart by contradictory ideas and opposing interests of the provisional authorities, could only be saved by the union of the entire people, all estates who realized the common misfortune.

During a city meeting, a simple merchant Kuzma Minin appealed to the townspeople to create a People's Militia. From defending their city, the people of Nizhny Novgorod developed a more general task of a campaign against Moscow. But they needed a military leader because Kozma Minin, an ordinary Zemstvo headman, city resident and a merchant, could not lead the nobles. Ilyinsky states: "this passionate man, who meant almost nothing but felt great love for his Motherland, was wise; he constantly thought about the misfortunes of his Motherland and concluded that it needed only one person to be saved, a beloved by people, a brave and honest person... And finally, he favoured Prince Dmitry Mikhailovich Pozharsky...".

Pozharsky originated from a noble family of Starodub princes. While participating in the uprising against the Poles in Moscow in 1611, he was seriously wounded in the head and moved to his estate in the Suzdal district near Nizhny Novgorod. When people turned to Pozharsky for help, he accepted this invitation. One of the monks wrote that the motivation for this choice was "the reason and truth".

The People's Militia received two courageous representatives of different classes as the leaders. They were united by the common goal of saving their Motherland. The whole people followed them - rich and poor, noble and simple, peasants and soldiers.

In the spring of the following year, 1612, the already well-organized army set out from Nizhny Novgorod to Moscow. A battle between the forces of the united militias (the parts of the defeated First and Second Militias, which Pozharsky led together with Minin) and Hetman Khodkevich took place at the walls of Moscow on August 22-24, 1612. The Poles retreated. The fate of the besieged garrison was decided. On October 22, an alarm was sounded on the bell tower of one of the Moscow churches. By this signal, the Cossacks and soldiers went to attack and captured the wall of Kitai-Gorod. The Russian people attributed this "miracle" to the intercession of the icon of the Kazan Mother of God - the shrine of the Zemstvo Movement.

We celebrate National Unity Day on November 4 (October 22, 1612, by the old style).